In Iowa City, Gingrich Yearns for Lincoln-Douglas in Twitter Era
Bob Vander Plaats and the famIly leader (all lower case except the I, because it's all about Bob) presidential lecture tour made a sixth and maybe final venture into the People's Republic of Johnson County Monday afternoon with Newt Gingrich. The event moved upstairs to the Iowa Memorial Union ballroom, because the main lounge was busy with freshman orientation. The incoming freshmen were six when Newt stepped down as speaker in late 1998.
The crowd is is 50 or 60 people. Many more public were here for Ron Paul, many more public and press here for Michele Bachmann. (My spell check wants to change Bachmann to Eichmann.)
At a brief press availability before the speech, Lynda Waddington of Iowa Independent asks the elephant in the room question: how does the BVP Marriage Pledge mesh with Newt's personal life? Bob answers: "We are a Christian organization, we believe in redemption and forgiveness. We believe he is committed to his wife right now."
I ask about the debt ceiling negotiations and his experience with government shutdown. He uses this as a launching pad to talk economics and Obama bash, including a repeat of the reference to Obama as "the leading food stamp president in American History." In direct response, he says he's pleased that Boehner held the line on taxes, but doesn't talk shutdown per se.
The Daily Iowan asks about the main emphasis of the Marriage Pledge: marriage of the gay variety. Gingrich calls on the Obama administration to back the Defense of Marriage Act (sic) in court. He concedes that New York went about marriage equality (my word) the right way through the legislative process, and the proper recourse is to vote the people who supported it out of office. Iowa did it through “judicial activism,” a favorite phrase of Vander Plaats.
BVP handles the introduction and says there may be another edition of the presidential lecture series in August or September, but drops no names. The fliers list an August 1 date with “to be announced.”
Newt starts saying "We need to find the solutions to the future." He talks at length about the Food and Drug Administration and finding a 21st century model "that accelerates moving science to the patient." This seems like part of a “niche issue” strategy that Gingrich discussed recently; he hopes to bring together a diverse coalition of intense single-issue advocates.
As Newt talks about the last shuttle launch and relying on the Russians for five years of space launches ("it only took us eight to get to the moon") Calista Gingrich enters the room, in an impossible to miss manner. Newt stops the space discussion to introduce her.
The Main Ballroom is a nice looking space but has two shortcomings: poor lighting and poor sound. I got my one usable photo at press time, but the speech is hard to hear. There's a general foreign policy drift: "We are not safer than we were on 9/11," citing North Korea and Pakistan. "When you talk about family, there a lot of Iowa guards people in Afghanistan, and a lot of people lost loved ones in 9/11." Also cites jobs report, repeating lines he answered me with:
Moving on to the economy, Gingrich repeats some line he offered me at press time. “Jobs are a family issue. You can't have a family if you can't provide for A FAMILY. You have a dependent family, not an independent family." As for last week's jobs report: "The US added just 18,000 jobs last month. That is approximately one job for every 1000 unemployed Americans. This may not be a plateau from which we bounce back, but a plateau to an even deeper loss.”
His solutions? We ought to put more offshore drilling in the debt ceiling bill. Gingrich also cites a “radical rewrite of labor law" by the National Labor Relations Board, prompting the first applause from the partisans. As a symbol of Big Government, Newt notes, "Washington DC is the only city that has not lost housing values."
Gingrich wraps the speech by citing his own book "A Nation Like No Other." It's a pattern; he mentions his newsletter and columns and books and films a lot. Defining American Exceptionalism, he says: “We are the only society in history that says power comes from God to each of us personally. The center of power is the citizen, not the government. You can only have a family oriented society if you have a sovereign citizenry." Sound improves slightly.” In the Obama model, Gingrich says, "power is centered in the government."
As usual at the famIly leader events, Q & A is submitted in writing in advance, and read aloud by Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley. How does Newt attract independents? Newt: "They'll look at the ideas and make a decision." Starts talking about regenerative medicine and dialysis, part of that niche issue strategy. Moving to foreign policy, he says: “This administration refuses to recognize that there's a real threat to this county, and the administration won't be honest about who's trying to kill us. That's a 80, 85 percent issue with the public." He's careful to distinguish between “peaceful Muslims” and “radical Islamists,” but note that he's already used the word “radical” in describing Obama administration labor policy.
Chuck Hurley asks what's THE most important issue. Rather than saying homer-SEX-yule marriage, Gingrich gives an interesting answer. "The greatest challenge we have is how can we have a conversation. There's this passion of the media to trivialize everything." He cites the obsession over Anthony Weiner's sex scandal and the Casey Anthony trial. "If you look at the total volume of coverage about the devastating unemployment report vs. an admittedly tragic trial, it's out of proportion." Newt talks about the length and depth of the Lincoln-Douglas debates – seven three-hour debates, no moderator – and contrasts the recent debate questions about favorite TV shows. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. This is not a game show. This is a conversation about the future of the United States of America and there ought to be some dignity. It is pathetic that we have degenerated into a politics of 30 second TV ads." Applause at end.
Vander Plaats asks, is Newt alienating moderates by being socially conservative? "If the choice is perfection you can splinter the Republican Party into 100 factions. The choice is between the general direction Newt Gingrich would take the country vs. Barack Obama." Repeats the Food Stamp President line AGAIN, adding "I want to be the pay check president"
Gingrich then goes on to take the lion's share of the credit for the economic boom of the late 1990's; William Jefferson who? "I helped balance the budget for four straight years.” Newt wants to go past deficit reduction, run surpluses and buy down the debt. "Truman and Eisenhower, even Kennedy, were pretty frugal. You don't start to see the big deficits until about 1967."
"Reagan ran on lower taxes, less regulation, and praise for entrepreneurs If we had seven years as good as the Reagan recovery you would have 25 million new jobs."
The "Activist judges" question gets asked, as it does at each famIly leader forum. Newt: “Everyone remembers taxation without representation, but the number two complaint in the Declaration of Independence was judges. One of the reasons we were so adamant about trial by jury was we wanted the local population to be able to overrule the judges." Says any five Supreme Court justices are "a floating constitutional convention." Only in the Warren era, says Newt, did the Court assert itself over legislatures. The answer is more Federalist papers than gay marriage. "Congress has the option to pass laws that block appeal to the court, so for example you could pass laws allowing school prayer." An interesting interpretation which may not jive with Marbury v. Madison.
And the elephant of Gingrich's marriages is in the room again. This Time Gingrich answers: "Of course you know I've been divorced twice. I've done things I'm not proud of, I've turned to God for forgiveness." Somehow, in a trick reminiscent of Rudy Giuliani on the subject of 9/11, this segues into the tax code and Alzheimer's. "If you had a tax code that favored families taking care of their loved ones, it would be a fundamentally different approach to health care." Again one of those niche issues. "The pursuit of happiness did not mean hedonism. Our rights and responsibilities transcend any one person."
In a closing statement: "I hope you will decide to be WITH me, not FOR me. The team has to include picking up seats in the House and Senate, and citizens at home. That will take power away from the bureaucracy in Washington. The left will not give up quietly. They will fight every day. They spent 80 years building their world.” Implying a rollback to pre-New Deal... or further? “This is probably the most critical election since 1860,” a line he's used before. “Four more years would be a disaster. This is about much more than politics this is about history and the nature of our country."